My obsession with the Pokemon: Trading Card Game

The Pokemon Trading Card Game Online title screen

I’ve been working on writing a blog about the Pokemon: Trading Card Game on the 3DS Virtual Console. What started as a bit of a “Looking Back” quickly spun out of control and shifted into a blog about the digital collectible card game genre. So, I’m decided to break the two into a mini-series. In this first blog, I’ll focus specifically on the Pokemon TCG games. Then in the follow-up blog, I’ll discuss my thoughts on the genre.

I’m not afraid or ashamed to admit that I enjoy playing Pokemon. However, my interest in the franchise has stayed almost entirely with the mainline games. Outside of the video games and the animated series, the Pokemon: Trading Card Game is probably its largest branch. And, with the recently renewed popularity of its trading cards, I wanted to learn more.

The Pokemon: TCG Colosseum Pack

Let’s start on Game Boy Color

I don’t have a deck, nor do I have anyone to play with. I wanted to learn about the game but I didn’t feel like I was in any position to buy the cards (that’s not even considering the fact that they’re next to impossible to find). What I did instead, was pick up the Game Boy Color game, Pokemon: Trading Card Game through the 3DS Virtual Console. It’s over 20 years old but thankfully, it’s only six dollars (CDN). My thought was that if I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t feel like I wasted any money.

At the time of this post, I’ve amassed over nine hours of playtime and have collected five of the eight medals you need. Unsurprisingly, the gameplay mechanics of Pokemon: TCG is very easy to grasp and there isn’t too much you need to learn. But as with most Pokemon games, there is plenty of grinding involved but it hasn’t taken away from the experience. At the same time, it’s a game that relies so heavily on luck. I don’t feel there is much skill involved and it’s really about how lucky you are with your draw of cards and how you play them.

Easy to Grasp with a lot of depth

In the Pokemon TCG, your deck consists of three different card types: Pokemon characters, Energy Cards, and Trainer Cards. The Pokemon cards are pretty self-explanatory; you’ll use them in battle with one serving as your main fighter, with up to five on the allowed on the bench, ready to bring in if necessary.

An example of the Pikachu card from Pokemon: TCG for Game Boy Color

You need to use Energy cards for your Pokemon card to attack. Depending on the pokemon, you’ll need to use either a specific energy type (eg. Grass, Water, Fire, etc…) or you may be able to use a random one. The stronger the attack, the more energy cards you’ll need. Once your pokemon has the required energy card to act, you can attack your opponent. 

Trainer cards act as functions and can vary greatly. Your deck might consist of trainer cards that allow you to draw more cards. You might have one that lets you sift through your deck to find a specific type of pokemon that you can use in battle. Then there are trainer cards that can allow you to revive a downed Pokemon or to heal a current one. 

Winning a duel in Pokemon: TCG

Although you can only attack once a turn, you can do a few actions before attacking. For example, during your turn you can add a Pokemon to your bench, add one energy card to a pokemon, play a Trainer card (or in some cases, two or three), then finish it off by attacking your opponent.

An example of the battle screen when playing Pokemon: TCG for the Game Boy Color

Before a battle commences, the character you play against will determine the number of prizes for the match, ranging between two to six. These prizes are cards from your deck that you can pick up and use after you’ve downed an opponent’s Pokemon. This also helps to bring the fight to a close. Once a player has earned all their prizes, they’re the winner.

There are a couple of other win states that can happen ahead of earning all the prizes. You win a battle if your opponent doesn’t have a Pokemon on their bench to bring into battle. Alternatively, you can also win if your opponent has run out of cards to play.

Deck Building is key

After that, the key is to build a deck that best suits your play style and that will work best against your opponent. In the GBC game, the progression is fairly open-ended. When you start, you get a deck built around one of the three base pokemon (Fire, Grass, or Water). Obviously, based on your pick, you’ll first visit the club that corresponds best against it and proceed from there.

The overview world map for Pokemon: TCG

Technically the first deck you get is actually pretty balanced with a mix of normal, fire, water, and grass-type pokemon. Your pick determines which Stage 2 Pokemon Card you get (Pokemon that can evolve have Stage 1 and/or Stage 2). Having a pokemon character that can evolve is highly beneficial. They are highest-rated, deal the most damage, and have the most health points.

Every duel you win earns you a booster pack. So far, every duel victory rewards me with two booster packs. I did find a special character in the game that rewards you with more but he seems to be the only one who grants you more than two. Grinding to earn booster packs seems to be the real focus of the game. As there are over 200 types of cards to get, you’ll need as many variants as possible to allow for the best chances of winning.

The game does a good job in building specific decks for you, as long as you have the required cards. Otherwise, you’ll need to create decks on your own. At this point in the game, I’m still unable to create multiple decks or to really take advantage of the auto deck building to build one of their recommended decks.

Where’s the love?

Gameplay from the Grass Club in Pokemon: TCG

If you’ve never played Pokemon TCG and still have a Nintendo 3DS, I strongly urge you to pick it up. For the six-dollar price tag, it’s hard not to recommend. Even if there are certain aspects of the game that don’t work anymore (the 3DS version can’t get all the cards because the unit lacks some of the features of the original GBC), it’s been a lot of fun to play thus far. It also doesn’t have the same charm of collecting and training pokemon, it still highlights the fun aspects of battles.

Early on with my playtime with the Game Boy Color game, it got me thinking, why hasn’t Nintendo or The Pokemon Company ever followed this up with a proper worldwide sequel for any of its handhelds or consoles? It’s been over 20 years since the GBC version and we’ve seen plenty of different Pokemon games over the years and the real cards have are still super popular. There was a Japanese follow-up but it never made its way west.

Although that game never got localized, there actually is a Pokemon TCG that you can play right now. If you have a computer or a tablet, you can download and play Pokemon Trading Card Game Online for “free”.

Very different from the GBC version

As it’s free to download, I decided to try it out on my iPad. As I suspected after playing the GBC version, this one is just as easy to grasp and has a really nice and helpful tutorial to get you used to the gameplay. I was able to rush through it in about 30 minutes, defeating each opponent easily.

While the battles are the same for both versions, the recent game has more content as it’s connected to the actual Pokemon cards you can buy in stores. It also allows you to play against real opponents and even trade for cards you may need. Surprisingly, it doesn’t have any real money mechanics in the game. The content you unlock in the game is done through playing and winning against the computer or real-life players.

There is the ability to import real cards into the game. So, if you buy a deck or booster pack in-store, you can enter a code to add them into the game. I don’t have any cards to see how this works but there does seem to be a limit to how many you can import.

An example of the battle screen from the Pokemon: Trading Card Online version

I’m hooked

I’ve been playing both versions quite a bit over the last week. Most of my time has been with the GBC version but I could see myself returning to the iPad version every once in a while to see new content. Also, if I can manage to get my hands on a real deck or some booster cards, I’d love to see how that aspect of the game works.

The GBC version isn’t without its faults. As I wrote early, some of the handheld’s limitations do make some aspects a bit frustrating. Also, although there is a lot of chance involved with most TCGs, it often feels like the ‘chances’ are always against me. I once had a match where I was only getting energy cards that I couldn’t use with the sole pokemon I had left. Of course, I didn’t get another pokemon to add to my bench and lost the duel. There was nothing I could do and it was frustrating that I was destined to lose, regardless of how long I tried to fend off my opponent.

Playing both versions has also got me re-interested in the digital collectible card game genre. I was a fan of Hearthstone and have dabbled with a few others but I haven’t play that much. In my next blog, I’m going to discuss my thoughts on the genre and one of the wishes I have for it, which connects back to the Pokemon: TCG.